Maps and Diagrams features on Tokafi….
It’s been a busy month for British experimental electronic composer/producer Tim Martin, the sole member of Maps and Diagrams. The band name is a perfect fit for his music, which floats non-linearly in celestial patterns, moving from slow-motion post-rock figures to swirling nebulae of sound to driving minimalist rhythms. Red Moon Rising, a limited release of 30 casette tapes via the Chemical Tapes label, and The Voices of Time, a CD-only release limited to 100 copies on Handstiched*, were both released in April 2011. The two albums work wonderfully as Yin and Yang companions, the former a buzzing soundfield of analog synths and pulling rhythms, the latter an ambient, cinematic vista of gentle organic and electronic sounds.
The aptly titled The Voices of Time takes a textural approach that focuses on compositional space, both in terms of temporal “events” and movement of sound across sonic space. Reversed sounds cycle between the speakers behind deftly played three- and four- note piano figures. Spoken voices emerge from and fade back into swells of sustained analog synth chords. The title track is a nuanced blend of twinkling keyboard, choral harmonies, shimmering electronics, and electric guitar arpeggios, floating listlessly between two slowly morphing chords. In “The Next Frontier,” the album’s epic finale, quiet vocal snippets float atop churning tides of vocals, electronics, and tape hiss. “Rapid Ear Movement” features howling guitar distortion over oceanic swells of synth chords. To pigeon-hole The Voices of Time as “ambient” is to unfairly simplify a series of songs burgeoning with textural subtleties (and the occasional “not-so-subtlety”), but the album does deliver a hypnosis-inducing quality that shifts the listener between bouts of passive and active listening.
Conversely, Red Moon Rising is marked by a seeming textural simplicity. Most of the nine songs are constructed around minimalist layers of keyboard, making for a propulsive and occasionally dance-y listen. From the first notes of the opening track, “Lost In Space,” you’re sucked into a mesmerizing maze of contrapuntal synth lines, ping-ponging bass lines and buzzing electronics that encase slowly morphing, ultramelodic motifs. Unlike the borderline stasis and cloudy haze of The Voices of Time, the compositions of Red Moon Rising are endlessly restless, churning rhythms and melodic figures through ongoing augmentation and diminution. Separate electro-lines fuse and divide over undercurrents of rhythmic repetitions. As unified as the overall sound is, the separate electronic lines have distinctly different timbres, making it easy to follow any one part through the entirety of a song section. The composer’s constant use of arpeggios and the manner in which different sounds complete each other’s melodic/rhythmic patterns before fracturing into separate lines has a strong Baroque quality, making for a space age take on Bach miniatures. The entire album clocks in at just 30 minutes, with each track serving as a mathematical etude that develops an economy of material into rich prisms of counterpoint and texture.
Taken together, The Voices of Time and Red Moon Rising offer an intriguing cross-section of Map and Diagrams’ compositional process. Both albums share a fascination with economy of material. The former stretches limited material through sedate textures and epic swells, focusing as much on the empty space that surrounds the sounds as on the musical ideas. The latter condenses small sets of ideas into busy interlocking patterns, making for an equally nuanced and hypnotic sound, but approached from the opposite extreme.
By Hannis Brown